Health & Wellness

Care for the Caregiver: Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s is a progressive illness, so the caregiver has to face both the daily difficulties that the person presents with, as well as the knowledge that the disease will get worse, regardless of the efforts of the caregiver,” explains Louis J. Marino, Jr., MD, Chief of Medical Staff and Medical Director of Geriatric Services at Sheppard Pratt.

About Alzheimer’s

Alzheimer’s disease is a progressive neurological disease that is most often seen in adults ages 60 and older. The disease negatively impacts memory and other important mental functions. Over five million Americans have Alzheimer’s, and it is the sixth leading cause of death among U.S. adults. As the disease progresses, symptoms of Alzheimer’s worsen. Adults with Alzheimer’s require daily assistance to complete basic life tasks. This can be very overwhelming for caregivers.

Supporting Someone with Alzheimer’s

Thanks to medical advances, individuals with Alzheimer’s are living longer than ever before. However, this also means that caregivers are tasked with managing symptoms and caring for their loved one for many years. Caregivers may have limited family support, as many families are smaller, and members live further apart than in past generations. 

“People with Alzheimer’s disease typically live several years with the illness, so the caregiver needs to play a long game and make sure they have the support for their loved one and themselves,” says Dr. Marino. 

Caring for Caregivers

What can caregivers do to avoid burnout and continue to serve their loved one?

“Most of what we know about maintaining good health goes back to the timeless recommendations that Aristotle prescribed: eat nutritious foods in moderation, get regular exercise, maintain healthy relationships, and do productive work. These basic activities remain the bedrock of good mental and physical health to this day,” says Dr. Marino.

Dr. Marino also advises caregivers to find encouragement in the higher purpose of their service.

“It’s important to find the value in what you’re doing, even if there’s no immediate reward,” says Dr. Marino. “By caring for someone at the end of their life, when they have little to offer us in return, I think we’re respecting the dignity of this person. It inspires us to recognize that each of us has our own intrinsic value as a human being, regardless of the losses of cognition or awareness. It’s these great challenges in life that define us and provide us opportunities for growth as people."

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